There are three things I love about Serena Thompson; she’s whip-smart, she makes a mean margarita, and above all, she’s loyal. I can’t think of a single time in my life where she wasn’t there for me. After my mum died, she moved into my flat for a week to make sure I was eating properly. When Olly dumped me, she keyed his car. When me and Olly got back together and then he gave me chlamydia, she sat holding my hand in the clinic waiting room, vocally brainstorming revenge schemes.
So when Serena called me from an unknown number at two in the morning and said she needed my help disposing of a body, I didn’t think twice before getting in my car and speeding over to her place.
The front door opened before I could even knock, and I was ushered inside. Serena wore the crimson kimono she reserved for what she called her ‘pash nights’ with David, but her mascara was ruined and her hair was a state. She looked like she’d either just had the best sex of her life or been hit by a car.
She looked at me blankly for a second, as if she didn’t remember calling me to come over, or didn’t recognise me at all.
‘Hi hun,’ she said, finally, and then burst into tears. I put my arms around her and she sank into me. Usually this would be when I fetched a bottle of Blossom Hill and put on some Adele, but I just held onto her until her sobs abated and she simply pointed up the stairs. She stayed behind me as I ascended, like a naughty child trying to stave off a scolding.
The most shocking thing about the body on the bed was how little horror it actually held for me. David might have been daydreaming, were it not for a shiny object protruding from his left ear. A nail file, I deduced. My nail file. The one Serena ‘borrowed’ from my bag the last time I was here.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Serena, now at my side, chose this moment to launch into an explanation. ‘Oh babe,’ she said, ‘oh darling, honey, it was awful, he came over you see, and we both had a little too much vino…’
The details bled together in the telling, Serena’s account becoming increasingly garbled as she talked faster and faster until her words ran together like out-loud-joined-up handwriting. I’d have suspected she were on something, except Serena hadn’t touched drugs since she took MDMA at my birthday party and peed her pants. And just as I had that night, I placed my hand on her arm now and reassured her that everything was going to be ok.
‘You don’t need to tell me what happened,’ I said. ‘Whatever you did, I’m sure you had your reasons.’
I realised, even as I was saying it, that it was true. This was the girl who loudly accused a man of trying to spike our drinks, just so he’d stop pestering me for a dance. The girl who’d offered to push me down the stairs if I was ever late for my period. Serena would do anything for me, no questions asked, and I would do the same for her.
‘I think the river is the best bet,’ I said, but Serena shook her head.
‘There are new streetlights all along the wharfage to stop drunks falling in. Someone will see us.’
‘Too far, the sun will be up before we’re done.’
Our eyes locked and we both said; ‘The woods.’
When you’re as close as Serena and I, there’s no such thing as planning. We simply worked as one, wrapping David up in the bedsheet (‘Laura Ashley,’ Serena mourned), half-carrying, half-dragging him out onto the landing, and tumbling him down the stairs. He weighed a tonne, and neither of us had kept up the gym memberships we bought together in January.
A hairy foot slipped from the sheet as we were bundling him into the back of my car, and I saw Serena’s name inked in cursive across his ankle. ‘When did he get that?’ I asked, to which she simply shrugged. ‘On his ankle though,’ I added, and we both winced.
The radio came on automatically when I started the engine — I reached to switch it off, but Serena stopped me. She needed the distraction, I reasoned. We’d driven about a mile when ‘You Don’t Own Me’ began to play. Despite everything, I felt a familiar rush of energy. Serena clapped in her seat next to me, and I knew she felt it too. This was our jam. We sang the rest of the way to the woods.
I had always thought that holding back a friend’s hair while she throws up was the closest one woman could feel to another, but as Serena and I began to dig David’s grave I realised I had been mistaken. Was there even a term for an act of friendship like this? Once we got out of these woods I would invent one, a private joke between Serena and myself — the latest in a long line.
Finally the hole was done. We rolled David unceremoniously into his new gaff, but neither of us picked up our shovels immediately.
‘Should one of us say something?’ I asked. Serena was silent for a moment. Then she whispered, so quietly I almost couldn’t make it out; ‘Dog.’ And with that, she resumed shovelling earth on top of what, merely hours before, had been her boyfriend.
The sky paled as we made the journey back, this time in silence. I took the keys from Serena’s shaking hand and let us into her house, where she curled up on the sofa and closed her eyes. A glance at my watch told me it was almost seven in the morning; on any other day I’d be getting up for work. My eyes travelled from my wrist to my hands; they were filthy. Serena’s were no doubt the same, covered in dirt and scraps of David.
I decided then and there I would call in sick to work. We’d both earned a manicure. My treat.